An open letter to the girls of Sue Mitchell’s Girl Scout troop, Jan. 3, 2018
My heart goes out to each of you as you are dealing with Amber’s death. Having faced death before, I’ve learned a bit about how to live in the life after death. I hope you will let me share.
First of all, grief is not something you will “get over” or “get through”. Grief is now part of your life’s journey. While she was alive, you were profoundly changed by your relationship with Amber and now, you are profoundly changed by her death. You cannot go “back to the way it was”, or “back to normal”. But here is the hope: The pain you feel now will not always be this constant or this sharp. You will find a new normal, a good normal, even, a happy normal. So how do you do that?
1. Realize that grief is different than depression, but also realize that you can get “stuck in grief” and with that comes depression.
Right now, the crying, the loneliness, the ‘sinking into the memories, unable to function kind’ of sadness is typical. But as time goes by, you will make a decision, either consciously or unconsciously: Does grief control me, or do I control grief?
2. Acknowledge that although grief is a permanent presence in your life, you get to make the rules about what he (grief) can do, and when he can do it.
3. Beware of the ambushes. Memories are great, until they come at the wrong time, in the wrong place, and you lose it in the middle of Krogers and strangers wanna call you an ambulance and they don’t understand that your heart is broken, and the ER can’t fix it.
4. Put your grief in a box. It’s a bit of embarrassing to have a full blown grief attack at Krogers, or at work, or in the middle of family Christmas, so what do you do with grief when he wants to run uncontrolled in your life? You put him in a box. Not a cardboard box, but a box in your mind. You might think that it would be a good thing to put the lid on tight and never open it because if you do, all the memories and pain and grief will come out. But if you don’t control when that lid comes off, it becomes like a ‘Jack-in-the-box’ and the crank turns and turns and without warning, it pops open and all the contents fly out all over everyone around.
For a while, keep that box on a low shelf in your mind. Open it a lot. Open it intentionally, on your terms. Choose when and how you will grieve. As time goes by, you’ll find that you will open it less and less. You may feel guilty about that. You might feel like you are forgetting Amber, and that you are dishonoring her memory. But that’s just part of walking your journey. I remember laying on Emily’s grave about 6 months out. The guy mowing the cemetery stopped to check on me. I told him that I felt guilty that I was only coming once a week instead of every day. He told me “I’ve been watching you. You’re right on schedule. That’s just the way it is. It means you’re healing up.” Those words freed me from the obligation to stay stuck in the same spot in my journey. He freed me from being stuck in grief. You will always have that box with you, and amazingly, one day when you open that box, you’ll discover that those same memories that cause you so much pain now, have morphed into your prized possession.
5. Give your grief a job. Like having a benefit, or writing a note to Adrianna. Like “adopting a kid” in a 3rd world country, or setting up a scholarship, or volunteering to feed the homeless. Easing someone else’s suffering, somehow, eases yours. And somehow, it will give meaning to a meaningless death. Amber is like a stone thrown into a pond. Her life rippled into ours. And her ripples will continue with anything you do to honor of her memory.
6. Be gentle with yourself and with others. Your grief is proportional to the relationship you had with Amber. Just as your relationship with Amber was different from everyone else’s, so your grief will be different as well. Don’t put expectations on others to grieve the same as you. And don’t expect yourself to grieve the same way others do. All that will do is to isolate you from the other people who loved Amber, too.
That's enough for now. Keep on walking. And if you find yourself stuck, call me, text me, friend me. 618-889-0587
I send you love and hugs,